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New Year Message

Posted on: 05 Jan 2015 by CEO

There’s nothing like a New Year to make us reflective and to think about what’s happened over the previous year. And this past year has been an extremely positive one; our schools are in great shape but – as ever – want to achieve even more.

The most important job for all our schools is to ensure the young people in our care are safe, supported and happy. This provides the solid platform from which we can implement our academic and social programmes. Schools never stand still; systems and processes, which work today, must be analysed and evaluated to ensure they are fit for purpose tomorrow. It’s why Bellevue conducts lengthy regulatory checks on its schools each year: to assess and reassess. And I’m delighted to report that when it comes to Child Protection arrangements, our in-house Reporting Inspector, Chris Sanderson, has given all our schools a clean bill of health.

But what about our academic and social programmes? Well, there are some wonderful things happening across our schools, and many more in the pipeline. Some of our initiatives are group-wide: Rick Hyde at Forest Prep School is leading on a common assessment framework across the group, for instance. And some are school specific: the incredibly exciting two-year development plans we’ve begun with Charles South at Elmhurst and Sue La Farge at Gateway are great examples.

The two-year plans are normally developed after one of our school reviews, which take place each year. Our review teams are made up of trained inspectors and – importantly – teachers from within the group. The review programme is designed to be consultative, so the school is part of the planning process and really benefits from this focused attention. The review team spends several days at a school evaluating the quality of teaching and learning as well as looking at how a school supports children each day through its pastoral systems and general breadth of education, and it’s a great opportunity for schools to demonstrate what they can do. Our recent detailed review of Forest Prep School in Altrincham, for example, saw the school team really embrace the process and the outcomes were excellent.

But ideas don’t always come out of Bellevue reviews. The schools in our group are independent of thought which is what makes them such beacons, and I love to hear about each new idea and initiative. For instance, Edenhurst has recently made many positive curriculum changes, with the hardworking David Barber leading the way in Maths. Nick Copestick, the school’s Head, recently told me how pleased he was with how well the team had embraced fairly major initiatives around assessment and target setting. At Weston Green, meanwhile, under Mike Harrison’s leadership, additional programmes have been developed to benefit children in key stage two, along with many more house competitions to embed further the inter-year relationships between children. And Deborah Gormley, who leads on Pastoral at Norfolk House, has developed an excellent ‘Caring School’ initiative, which has firmly embedded the ideas of generosity, friendship and support throughout all the school. These are the ideas and programmes that make good schools great, and I look forward to many more initiatives over the next few terms.

We also have great things going on in the field of communication. Brabyns Prep School really is leading the way with the use of social media; everything from the school’s use of embedded video in Facebook to the kitchen recipe of the week on Twitter are having a great impact. When it comes to the use of video to promote our schools I strongly encourage you to look at both Surval Montruex and Surval Gstaad; the videos are superbly shot with staff and students talking passionately about their schools.

Many schools have emailed me recently wishing to share stories about their end of term productions and concerts. Bridget Saul and Polly Hazelwood of Wandsworth Prep were incredibly proud of the achievements shown by their Year 3 group, with many children performing lengthy solos in front of a packed audience. Skippers Hill, meanwhile, returned to St Dunstan’s church after a 20-year absence for their Carol Concert, which saw over 400 people attend!

Part of each school’s development planning involves substantial investment into resources and facilities, and I think it’s fair to say that this has been the term of the astro turf! Skippers Hill’s beautiful grounds sit – unfortunately – on heavy clay, which meant that after a few heavy rainfalls the school field became something of a lake, with games lessons being regularly taken indoors. Its new and fantastic astro has transformed things, with not a single games lesson being cancelled since it was laid, and more generally the whole experience for children improved substantially. New astro turfs at Weston Green and Forest Park have also benefitted pupils hugely. In fact, there was a great deal of excitement at the opening of Weston Green’s new facility with Sky Sports commentator, Martin Tyler, and former Liverpool player, Phil Babb, officially opening the astro pitch with a day of activities and games.

Schools are only as good as the people who work there and I continue to be inspired and overwhelmed by the ability, hard work and dedication of all staff.  I know Mike Harrison at Weston Green really appreciates the work of Camilla Earp, Nicky Clarke, Ursula Trigg and Beth Pascal, all of who joined Weston Green this year. Sam Habgood at Norfolk House and Nick Copestick at Edenhurst, have been thrilled with the development of music under the leadership of Sarah Crawford and Tony Thorley respectively. I would like to pay special thanks to those people who work behind the scenes, often doing thankless tasks, which allow our schools to flourish. I have recently spent a lot of time at Surval Montreux, our Girls’ boarding school, and have seen first hand the exceptional job performed by non-teaching staff.

Some of our schools are well established and their evolution is more gradual when compared to others who are or have undergone structural change. For example, Forest Park had feedback that its lunches required reinvigorating and now offers a superb menu. At the other end of the spectrum, Wandsworth Prep only started as a school three years ago and I could not be more pleased with where the school is today. Montessori House nursery recently joined Norfolk House and this has meant the school now has two sites with the school’s Reception classes located in a new building; the planning for this work was meticulous and I’d personally like to thank Liz Burke and Frances Joyce for ensuring this transition was handled with such care and professionalism.

Perhaps the most impressive transformations are happening in Switzerland; under Penelope Penney’s leadership the team at Surval Montreux are achieving great things. This was a school that previously offered ‘Swiss Finishing’ style courses, but today welcomes girls from over 15 countries to study either the American or British curriculums in an environment which is both supportive and forward looking.

Ultimately schools are about the pupils and students in them; they give the school life and character. Which is why I’d like to give a special mention to Tali Cunningham, a Year 8 pupil at Skippers Hill, who recently raised £1,445 for charity by climbing Mount Kinabalu – quite a feat! I’d also like to congratulate the three children at Forest Park who have made it to the Independent Schools Association national swimming finals at the Olympic Stadium; an experience they will never forget.

Finally, I want to thank the team at Bellevue HQ. I’ve never worked with a more dedicated and passionate bunch of people who take great pride in their job. Our schools are fortunate to have them. 

Mark Malley - CEO of Bellevue Education

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